Can you tell if something was written by a man or a woman? I am not ashamed to admit that, while I would like to brag and say that I can, I often cannot. Indeed, even with my own writing there are many people out there who are shocked to discover that I am a man. They are convinced I must be a woman (and Audrey in the avatar isn't the primary reason); when asked "why" the responses vary and are never satisfying. In fact, there are even internet sites set to "judge" your writing to see if you are writing more like a man or a woman, and most languages do account for feminine and masculine words. This realization, whether comfortable or not, does beg the question:
Do men and woman approach writing differently?
Is there some inherent, gender-based difference between men and women writers, the words we choose and the things we write? I posed this question to several female writers on deviantART, hopeful that they could provide some insight. I am happy to say that I was not disappointed! While their opinions varied, greatly, the wisdom evident in their individual experiences was a unifying force well worth the trouble of finding an "answer" (and later admitting that there isn't one).
I was especially happy to see that I was not alone in wondering why some texts are pegged as "written by a woman" and others are assumed to be written by a man. Indeed, !WineWriter shared my same failings:
There may be a difference between female and male writing styles, but personally, I can't see it. I even took seven books from my shelves and tried to guess the genders of the authors. I made a wrong guess four out of seven times. Maybe this is just a test of how attentive I am, but I believe people's minds and writing styles vary from individual to individual.
There is a sight online, Gender Guesser, which intends to prove this theory wrong. It provides a generator which can decide your gender based off your writing. "This is better than random guessing (50%), but should not be interpreted as "fact"," the article states. "In particular, men should not be offended if it says you write like a girl." Or in my case, I shouldn't be offended if it says I write like a boy. Seven times. :l
For those who say there is a difference between the writing styles of women and men, maybe they have a good, concrete reason. I'd be interested in reading studies on this, and seeing the verdict.
So would I. So would I! And, in fact, there are studies being done, but no definitive conclusions have been made just yet. Thus it leaves us to haggle our opinions and make sense of something that we are instinctively torn in. We often like to celebrate differences, after all, and there do seem to be certain expectations of women versus men (as explored in the previous article), but what if the differences are all in ours heads? !wordworks tackles this implication with style:
I believe there are greater intricacies and more exciting mysteries behind the human mind than a simple gender dial. I don't personally believe either gender is predisposed to approach creativity in any particular way.
Sex as a social construct might carry such stereotypes, but if we're speaking pure biology, human psychology, then my answer is no. I think enough of these so-called "fundamental difference" theories have been disproven in other fields for me to refuse to cater [in regards] to this one.
So, in speaking of the man's approach versus the woman's approach, even considering that these might not exist, are we directly speaking to the social aspects and societal stereotypes and constraints forced on people as they mature in the present-day? Are gender expectations so ingrained in our day-to-day that we find it difficult, even when we disagree deep down, to acknowledge differences and similarities and approach the gray area? Is this why, when I write romance, people assume I am a woman or, when a woman writes horror, people assume she is a man? So many questions! ^Beccalicious voices the same frustrations:
Well the strange thing is, I have always been told I write like a man. However I am unsure what this really means- how does a woman write? What is acceptable for a woman to write? Should we restrict ourselves to Mills and Boon because some people believe they're all written by little old ladies? Should every woman be writing a Bridget Jones diary? I understand different genres appeal to different sexes, but the writer behind them doesn't necessarily have to be of that sex. I don't know anyone who picks their literature by the authors' sex.
And does it come down to, then, what is acceptable? The answers are not easy, and perhaps not accessible, but they deserve further discussion. Even so, ~windwater offered some insight that tried to appreciate the differences of each writer, not based on gender, but based on individuality--something that seems to make a bit more sense to me:
I think that the differences are more individual than sex-dependent, and any differences that seem to appear in the topics or styles according to gender are societal and self-fulfilling.
Indeed, `LadyLincoln seems to echo these exact sentiments, though with more of a "solution" as to why society may have such a role in these manufactured differences:
I believe that each person, whether they are male or female, have their own distinct writing styles. Also, men generally are taught to focus more on "logical" ideas and women generally are taught to steer towards the "emotional."
But again we come back to what is "taught" and what is acceptable. Is it true that men are encouraged to pursue logic and reason and women are encouraged to pursue emotional writing? Or is this simply what we assume is encouraged and therefore work to find out comfort in these subtle "men versus women" collective mentalities? `StJoan brings up the idea of this comfort:
It's all about a level of comfort with their character and being true to the person you are creating. Good writers should be able to overcome their own bias and at least temporarily step into the other gender's shoes.
I think the difference comes in the interest of each gender. The interests do tend to be different, and so the literature that comes out of each gender is more likely to be in line with those interests.
But now we come to a different point. Are there, then, differences--perhaps not in how each gender approaches writing but, instead, in which subjects writers would rather approach? Do women feel fundamentally more comfortable writing about certain things simply because they are women? This concept intriques me, and I am not convinced there is an easy or cut-and-dry answer. However, the idea of what we are taught--what we are comfortable with--does cause a good deal of reflection, and I believe `SparrowSong intelligently explores the possibilities. Should this be limited to simply writing? Aren't we readers first? Do the differences begin there?
I do believe that men approach reading differently than women. I read an essay once about how women, who are constantly exposed to men's literature through school, are equally as likely to read a book with a male protagonist as a female one, whereas men will almost always choose the book with a male protagonist. Unfortunately, the essayist did not cite her source, so I do not know if this is exaggerated or not.
What I do know is that having read both Sartre (a male French existentialist) and de Beauvoir (a female French existentialist of the same period) in one of my classes, the women all preferred de Beauvoir's book and the men all preferred Sartre's. We all agreed both were pretty good, but the women found Sartre to be scarily egotistic and the men found de Beauvoir to be dry and did not enjoy the detail in her writing.
This may exist in part because of the angel/monster or maiden/mother/hag stereotypes in literature, old views which pigeonholed all women into two or three roles instead of allowing them their complexities. Then when writers look to the past for examples of good writing, they see these old biases, absorb them subconsciously, and don't realize something is wrong with portraying women in those roles; having grown up with those ideas hidden in their literature, they may pigeonhole women in their works without realizing it.
Then again, this may be also the result of a lack of understanding between the sexes in general. I've read a lot of unrealistic female characters by male authors, but also a lot of unrealistic male characters written by females.
I think this "lack of understanding" is an excellent point. I can barely figure out the motivations behind decisions other men make let alone women! I realize we are all human beings but, sometimes, women seem like an entirely different world to me. Does that mean I've been sensitized to this? Am I a product of my society and education? Have I been handicapped? How disturbing to think that education, which is supposed to open minds, can close them so definitively without direct intention! But before I wander too far into the distance, I found a strong point by !kLiT-sHy to bring me back:
Yes [there are fundamental differences], but I know a few special people who can write leaving you in doubt . Men are more rational, women are more emotional. That explains why most male writers write about other things than romance and female writers will never get sick of writing about mushy things and how we weep over a late night movie. But when it comes to erotica, I see no difference so far. I get the same goose bumps. Well, maybe I am confused?
Maybe I'm confused, too! Maybe we all are. But how interesting is it to see different women from different backgrounds coming back to the same "reason versus emotion" point of view? What have we done to ourselves? Why? Once again, in citing differences, we look at approach not in regards to a process but in regards to a subject. Do women, then--or all writers--subconsciously label themselves? I do not have the answers, and I'm a bit glad about that.
However, !lovetodeviate grounds us in something that is not only fun to think about but interesting to consider. How do women organize their writing? How do men? How many of you have a pad and pencil sitting outside your shower because the best ideas always come to you when you're soaking wet?
This reminds me of something Benjamin Zephaniah said at a poetry performance that I attended. He said that among the women writers he knew, most were very conscientious about noting down their ideas, even if it meant waking up in the middle of the night and hunting for paper in the dark. Men, on the other hand, tended to believe they'd remember the idea/word/phrase/image in the morning, but of course, when they woke up, whatever it was they thought of was lost. I wonder how true it is. I know I write down every silly thing that comes to mind. I also don't have any statistics to say that most women do this and most men don't, but it's fun to think that we're a little more humble.
I can't speak to humility, and I blush to admit that I write everything down to the point of pulling my car over on the highway, but it does make me wonder how far these differences might go if they even exist at all. Do we each, as discussed above, simply have our own working systems that we attribute gender qualities to when there are none, or are those attributes warranted? `PinkyMcCoversong covers this beautifully:
I talk to a lot of men about writing, simply because I talk to a lot of people about writing. I'm consistently frustrated with my boyfriend's inability to just sit down and write a piece, and yet equally stunned when he churns out a piece of genius that seemingly came to him overnight. It's like he has stored up all this information behind his writer's block, and then the block broke like a dam and the writing came gushing through all at once. Then again, I have another friend who has a system by which he thinks about writing at night and then sits down to pen poems every morning. I myself just keep a notebook with me at all times and write when the muse strikes, create lists of words and phrases that I think are pretty, and occasionally challenge myself (usually while patroning some mode of public transportation) to just freewrite until something good happens. But I know plenty of women who, like my boyfriend, can't freewrite to save their lives. I know men who would rather write on paper and women who would rather type their work straight into a word processor or even into the submit box on dA. I don't think that there's anything gender-specific about how we approach writing, only in what we are inclined to write about. And it could be argued that that's more culture than gender, anyway.
And that seems to be the consensus. If there really are gender differences in regards to how people approach writing, they do not seem to be a product of nature but of nuture--something we've done to ourselves, so to speak. That is not to take away from the beauty of being a woman or the blessing (haha!) of being a man, but it does appear to be a pretty good way of looking at things. If nothing else, I've learned that being told I write like a woman is a compliment. Wouldn't you want to be associated with ladies like these?
With a special thanks to: